Published on March 6, 2014
March 3, 2014 The Honorable Carolyn Lerner Special Counsel U.S. Office of Special Counsel 1730 M St., NW, Suite 218 Washington, DC 20036 Dear Ms. Lerner, I am writing on behalf of the Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). AAAS is the largest multi-disciplinary science society in the world and has a longstanding interest in the quality and integrity of science used by the government when assessing and deciding matters of public policy. Because a substantial proportion of government whistleblowers has historically been comprised of scientists, engineers, or health care professionals, AAAS has long been concerned with their ability to report concerns about the manner in which science may be used or portrayed in the federal government. The Committee that I chair is responsible for advising AAAS on all matters related to whistleblowing policies and actions at the federal level. This letter seeks clarification of the OSC’s interpretation of 5 U.S.C., Section 1213(g)(1) established by the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. As you know, Section 1213(g)(1) states that “an individual” may bring forth evidence of wrongdoing [as defined by 1213(a)] to the Special Counsel, who “may transmit the information to the head of the agency which the information concerns….” The Section appears to draw a distinction between an “individual” and Section 1213(a)’s reference to a federal “employee, former employee or applicant for [federal] employment.” However, it is our understanding that your office has interpreted the law in such a manner as to apply only to a very narrow class of potential whistleblowers, i.e., federal “employee, former employee or applicant for [federal] employment.” Yet, the term “individual” in Section 1213(g)(1) would appear to allow for a more expanded interpretation. Our concern is that by narrowing the range of sources from which complaints can be brought to the OSC, it forecloses a channel by which persons with scientific and technical expertise could report wrongdoing that affects the quality and integrity of scientific information or data, thereby allowing for the possibility that poor, if not patently wrong, science will influence policy. We ask, therefore, whether our understanding of the OSC interpretation of Section 1213(g)(1) is correct. If so, we request that you elaborate on the reasoning and legal basis underlying such an interpretation. If our understanding of OSC’s position on Section 1213(g)(1) is incorrect, then please clarify for us the interpretation OSC will apply to cases where a scientist who is not an “employee, former employee or applicant for employment” brings a complaint that meets the definition of the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1969. Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter; I look forward to your reply. Should you or your staff have any questions about AAAS, the Committee, or the nature of this letter, please contact Dr. Mark S. Frankel at AAAS. He can be reached at 202.326.6793 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sincerely, Melissa Anderson, Ph.D. Chair, AAAS Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Directorate for Science and Policy Programs American Association for the Advancement of Science 1200 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20005 USA Tel: 202 326 6600 Fax: 202 289 4950 www.aaas.org/spp
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